San Anselmo Artist Behind Floating Christmas Tree Mystery

Artist and builder Hil Hawken brings unexpected cheer, intrigue to San Rafael’s San Pablo Bay.

A Christmas tree floating in the San Pablo Bay near San Rafael’s Glenwood neighborhood is the talk of the town these days. Credit: Keith Marsh
A Christmas tree floating in the San Pablo Bay near San Rafael’s Glenwood neighborhood is the talk of the town these days. Credit: Keith Marsh

By Laura Dixon

Bay City News Service

As festive lights and décor brighten up buildings and yards throughout the Bay Area this season, an unexpected piece of holiday cheer has popped up on the San Pablo Bay in San Rafael.

Starting last week, a floating Christmas tree could be seen bobbing in the water near the Glenwood neighborhood in San Rafael, eliciting grins and impromptu photos.

The man behind the floating decoration is Hil Hawken, a 66-year-old builder and artist from San Anselmo.

"This is an idea that struck me last year and I thought it would be fun to do, so I just did it," Hawken said.

"I get into the Christmas season -- it's a time when everybody should feel a little bit of magic," he added.

The builder put his vision into action by picking up a 3-foot tree from a local Walgreen's and outfitting it with solar lights and red ribbon.

He then fastened the tree to a broomstick and a Styrofoam square and sent it out on the San Pablo Bay.

Since then, Hawken said, "Almost every time I drive by there's someone with a camera there, people have smiles on their faces.

It sort of wakes them up from the stupor that some people are in."

The longtime San Rafael-area resident, who grew up about a block from the slice of bay where his holiday creation now floats, said he's always had a mischievous streak.

Mixed with his artistic flair, those inclinations have manifested themselves in a number of quirky capers over the years, including creating a Styrofoam family of harbor seals and placing them in some marshland off of the roadway at Larkspur Landing.

"Anybody driving by, if they looked over, would see this family of harbor seals," he recalled with a chuckle.

Hawken says the floating Christmas tree is close enough to the shore for him to easily retrieve it once the holidays are over.

But he'll likely have another holiday project up his sleeve next year, he said.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

Syrah December 12, 2013 at 01:14 PM
I just love this! It's the sweetest act...sweet enough to thaw even the most frozen of hearts. Yay Hil Hawken for embracing the holiday spirit!
Richard Raznikov December 15, 2013 at 01:22 PM
The guy always was a little bent. I blame his teachers.
Syrah December 15, 2013 at 01:36 PM
Well Richard Raznipants, if being bent means erecting an adorable X-mas tree in The Bay, we need more teachers like that...
Richard Raznikov December 15, 2013 at 01:58 PM
We had a truckload of them at San Rafael High and many of us to this day talk about how lucky we were. Hil was pretty cool in those days, too. And, yes, we sure do need teachers like those, but I'm afraid the environment for independent teachers now is less welcoming.


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